Wry Neck


Many of us have woken up unable to move our neck, but what causes it and what can you do to help relieve some of that pain?


An acute wry neck occurs suddenly and most commonly during the night, it can be a result of a restless night, sudden unexpected movement or sleeping in one position too long and overloading the joint. The facet joint becomes irritated and sore and this causes the cervical (neck) muscles to spasm in an attempt to protect the sore joint. Pain will be located on one side of the neck and moving the neck in all directions is usually painful however turning the neck to one side will be more painful than the other. This can seem quite severe, but in most cases it is not serious (so try not to worry too much).


First off, if you wake and can’t move your neck due to pain, don’t panic. Try and keep the neck as relaxed and comfortable as possible, the more you tense up and try to hold or brace the neck, the more painful it will be. Try some relaxed belly breathing to calm the system. Gently move the neck from side to side in a relaxed manner, moving within your pain-free range. Keep the area warm with a heat pack or scarf. Speak to your pharmacist about medication but simple analgesia can be helpful. Avoid using braces or collars as this can slow down the healing.


Acute wry neck pain will more often than not resolve by itself within a week, however seeing a physiotherapist early can help speed this process along and assist in complete resolution of pain. The physio will use different techniques to settle the pain such as massage, dry needling, joint mobilization and assisted joint movement techniques.


Key Points

·         Keep warm

·         Simple analgesia

·         Keep relaxed and continue gentle movement

·         Avoid braces

·         See your physio sooner rather than later



Sophie Hellings

Sophie is a senior physiotherapist at BodyWise Physiotherapy. She has completed a Masters of musculoskeletal physiotherapy at Curtin University, and has many years experience managing a wide range of pain and musculoskeletal conditions. Her particular interests incoude chronic and persistent pain, headache management and complex conditions such as vertigo